The Biggest Concern for Every NFL Team Heading into Week 2

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 13, 2013

The Biggest Concern for Every NFL Team Heading into Week 2

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    When it comes to us fine folks at Bleacher Report, we can never be accused of not caring.

    With one game in the books for each of the 32 NFL teams (two for both the New York Jets and New England Patriots), it is already time to take a look at what each club should be concerned with as they look toward their next opponent.

    Some of the categories may be a little unorthodox, and a perhaps a few may reek of overreaction. We are fully aware that it is only one game, so we will not overanalyze. And as the reader, you should avoid the temptation to do the same when it comes to the following analysis.

    But there is certainly a lot of food for thought in the following pages.

Arizona Cardinals: Pass Rush

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    Can the absence of one player make that much of a difference when it comes to a defense?

    It does when you led your team in sacks a year ago.

    A league suspension will cost Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington three more games this season. On Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, Washington was missed as the Cards failed to record a sack of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in a 27-24 loss.

    Yes, the Arizona defense did score one of the team’s touchdowns as nose tackle Dan Williams walked into the end zone from two yards out after picking off Bradford in the third quarter.

    However, the rest of the game belonged to St. Louis’ offensive front, which kept its quarterback out of harm’s way for the remainder of the contest.

    We shall see if things get any better this week when the Detroit Lions come to town.

Atlanta Falcons: Lack of Balance

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    Here we go again.

    Last season, the Atlanta Falcons finished tied for the best record in the NFL. But Mike Smith’s 13-3 club had its detractors due in part to a defensive unit that was mediocre at best.

    In last year’s playoffs, the Falcons blew a 20-0 lead to the Seattle Seahawks before rallying in the closing seconds for a 30-28 win. A week later in the NFC title game, Atlanta squandered a 17-0 advantage in what proved to be a 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

    Last Sunday at the Superdome, Smith’s club owned a 10-0 first-quarter lead over the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons' attack rolled up 123 yards on 16 plays, equally distributed via the run and the pass.

    So how is it that with new running back Steven Jackson around that the Falcons ran the football only six times the rest of the game?

    Smith’s team would fall, 23-17, and the doubters certainly remain.

Baltimore Ravens: Defense

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    This was almost too easy. How can you not point to the Baltimore Ravens defense after a record-tying performance by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning?

    John Harbaugh’s club shut out Denver in the first quarter a little over a week ago, then watched Manning finish the night with 462 yards through the air and seven scores—the most touchdown passes thrown by a player in an NFL game since 1969.

    All told, the Broncos rolled up 510 yards of total offense despite running 19 fewer plays (68) than the Ravens (87). In Baltimore this week are the Cleveland Browns, who struggled on offense in a loss to the Miami Dolphins.

    If the Browns' attack gets healthy at the expense of the defending Super Bowl champions, there will be plenty to talk about on Monday.

Buffalo Bills: Offense

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    The first game of the newest era of football for the Buffalo Bills featured some promise from the team's top three draft choices in April.

    Quarterback EJ Manuel, wide receiver Robert Woods and middle linebacker Kiko Alonso all made their presence felt, albeit in a loss to the New England Patriots.

    But Buffalo’s offense is obviously still a work in progress following the 23-21 loss. The Bills' attack managed only 286 total yards and two touchdowns in defeat. Granted, the team only had the ball for 61 plays—28 fewer than the Patriots (89) on Sunday. And Manuel and Co. were a mere 31 percent (4-of-13) on third-down conversions.

    Add in a pair of lost fumbles and there is obviously room for improvement for Doug Marrone’s club. But that could come a lot sooner than later.

Carolina Panthers: September (and October)

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    What to make of the Carolina Panthers?

    In each of the last two seasons, Ron Rivera’s team has opened with eight losses in its first 10 games. In 2011, Carolina rebounded to win four of its last six contests. Last season, the Panthers went 5-1 down the stretch, closing the year with four consecutive victories.

    So with that in mind, are we seeing the beginning of another horrible start by quarterback Cam Newton and Co.? Rivera’s squad fell at home to the Seattle Seahawks last week, 12-7. Carolina’s offense managed only 253 total yards, and the team coughed up the ball twice.

    We are not suggesting it is time to panic. But if the Panthers don’t come away with a road win at Buffalo this Sunday, the red flags will be raised once again.

Chicago Bears: Pass Rush

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    When it comes to taking away the football, no one did it better than the 2012 Chicago Bears.

    And although there’s a new head coach in the Windy City in Marc Trestman, that formula worked to perfection in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Although the Chicago defense gave up 340 total yards and Bengals wideout A.J. Green exploited the Chicago secondary for 162 yards and two scores on nine receptions, the Bears bore down when they had to. Pro Bowl cornerbacks Charles Tillman (two interceptions) and Tim Jennings (fumble recovery) combined for all three of Chicago’s takeaways in a 24-21 win.

    But where was the Bears pass rush on Sunday? A Cincinnati offensive front that struggled with pass protection last season—a unit that was minus Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth on Sunday—allowed only one sack last week.

    Defensive end Julius Peppers and Co. hope to take better aim at Christian Ponder this weekend.

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Andy Dalton

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    After a somewhat sluggish start last season, Cincinnati Bengals second-year quarterback Andy Dalton settled in and played well during the team’s second half.

    Unfortunately, that did not carry over into the postseason. The young signal-caller completed only 14 of 30 passes for 127 yards and was picked off in a 19-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Wild Card Weekend.

    Although Dalton and teammate A.J. Green had their positive moments in last week’s 24-21 loss to the Chicago Bears, the third-year pro offset his two touchdown passes with two interceptions, both by Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.

    The concerns over Dalton may be a bit exaggerated. But in two career playoff games the young quarterback has yet to throw a touchdown pass while being picked off four times. And last Sunday in Chicago brought back some unpleasant memories.

Cleveland Browns: Offensive Line

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    One of the strengths of the Cleveland Browns is an offensive front led by perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas.

    When we say perennial, we mean perennial—six years, all resulting with a Pro Bowl invitation.

    Add in former Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and this is a formidable unit. So what happened last Sunday against a talented Miami Dolphins front?

    Second-year running back Trent Richardson was limited to 47 yards on 13 carries, accounting for all of the team’s rushing yards and attempts. And quarterback Brandon Weeden was sacked six times, four of those coming in the fourth quarter. And that was after throwing three first-half interceptions.

    It was a rough debut for head coach Rob Chudzinski and the team’s new-look staff. Now let’s see if the Browns can rebound against the Baltimore Ravens.

Dallas Cowboys: Secondary

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    Think about it.

    A team totals six takeaways in a game and winds up holding on for a five-point win.

    Such was the Dallas Cowboys' 36-31 win over the New York Giants last Sunday evening.

    Three interceptions of quarterback Eli Manning offset four touchdown passes and 450 yards passing by the New York signal-caller.

    But ponder this: The Dallas secondary watched three Giants wide receivers—Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle—each total five receptions for over 100 yards. And while Manning was sacked three times by the Dallas pass rush, new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had to be concerned about where this game was headed.

    When it was all said and done, Dallas secured the victory. But there had to be a little nail-biting along the way. And the Cowboys secondary will have to perform better than that on a weekly basis.

Denver Broncos: Pass Rush

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    Perhaps we are being a little overly critical here. After all, the Denver Broncos rolled the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, 49-27, behind a huge night by quarterback Peyton Manning.

    Meanwhile, the Denver defense did give up 362 yards passing and two touchdowns (two interceptions) to quarterback Joe Flacco. And the Broncos did sack Flacco four times, 2.5 of those sacks by outside linebacker Shaun Phillips.

    But three of those four sacks came in the second half. And that figure looks a little small considering Flacco dropped back to pass 66 times.

    Once again, this may be a reach. But let’s see what kind of pressure the Denver defense gets on Eli Manning this week at MetLife Stadium.

Detroit Lions: DT Ndamukong Suh

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    You would think there would be cause for celebration after the Detroit Lions handled the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday.

    The team’s 34-24 triumph ended an eight-game losing streak dating back to last season and was the first over a divisional opponent following seven straight losses to NFC North rivals.

    But the headlines this week in the Motor City once again focused on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, fined $100,000 over an illegal block made on Vikings center John Sullivan. More importantly on Sunday, the penalty wiped out an interception return for a touchdown by teammate DeAndre Levy.

    Controversy for Suh is becoming an annual event. And if the talented defender intends on getting the Lions back into the playoffs in 2013, he may want to re-evaluate his position on a number of things.


Green Bay Packers: Offensive Line

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    Yes, Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers were once again thwarted by the San Francisco 49ers—their third loss to the club in basically a calendar year.

    The Pack fell short in a very entertaining 34-28 setback, which saw Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick throw for 412 yards and three scores.

    But Green Bay’s issues went a little deeper. While its refurbished offensive line did a respectable job of protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there were no holes when it came to establishing the run. The Pack gained a mere 63 yards on the ground on 19 attempts and their longest run of the afternoon was a mere seven yards.

    So was it any wonder that McCarthy’s club owned the ball for a mere 21:25 against San Francisco?

    It will be interesting to see if rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, will be substantially busier against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Houston Texans: Pass Defense

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    Fair or unfair when it comes to assessing the Houston Texans?

    Fair, if you look at just the first three quarters and not the final numbers in the team’s 31-28 win over the San Diego Chargers.

    In the fourth quarter on Monday night, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed only one of his seven pass attempts, good for eight yards. He was also picked off by Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who returned the ball 18 yards for a score.

    However, the first three quarters saw Rivers hit on 13 of 22 throws for 187 yards and four touchdowns. The Houston defense resembled the unit that closed the season in 2012.

    For head coach Gary Kubiak’s sake, let’s hope that Monday’s fourth quarter was a sign of things to come…soon.

Indianapolis Colts: Defensive Line

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    There were some pretty impressive numbers put up by the Indianapolis Colts defense on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

    LaRon Landry (15) and Antoine Bethea (11) combined for 26 tackles and an interception in a hard-earned 21-17 win last Sunday.

    That’s all well and good. Except that Landry and Bethea comprise the starting safety combo for the team. While it’s not unusual for defensive backs to lead their team in stops in a game, it’s worth noting that the Colts' starting front three of Cory Redding, Ricky Jean-Francois and Aubrayo Franklin combined for 10 tackles.

    Last season, Indianapolis ranked 29th in rushing defense and on Sunday gave up 171 yards on the ground to the Raiders—112 of those to quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

    Are we making a mountain out of a molehill, considering the Colts won the game? Not really. Chuck Pagano’s team may not be so lucky the next few times around.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Personnel

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    That might be a little harsh.

    But even harsher was watching the Jacksonville Jaguars in their first game of the Gus Bradley era. It’s only one outing, but things didn’t look much better last Sunday than they have in recent seasons.

    The Jaguars' 28-2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs saw starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert sacked six times and picked off twice, one of those returned for a score by linebacker Tamba Hali.

    Bradley’s team totaled 178 yards of offense and was a dismal 5-of-19 on third-down conversions. Meanwhile, 11 of the team’s 15 offensive possessions ended with a punt by Bryan Anger.

    It's safe to say there was a lot of anger going around if you were a Jaguars fan.

Kansas City Chiefs: Overconfidence

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    OK, you can stop laughing. We know the Kansas City Chiefs did have a punt blocked for a safety last week.

    But what more could the Chiefs have done last Sunday in handling the Jacksonville Jaguars, 28-2?

    The team did its best to put last season’s forgettable 2-14 showing behind it. The Chiefs scored 28 points, surpassing any game total from 2012. The offense scored three first-half touchdowns. Last season, the club totaled 17 offensive touchdowns in 16 contests.

    Andy Reid’s club also played turnover-free football one year after the club tied for the league lead with 37 turnovers. Kansas City also forced two turnovers. A year ago, the Chiefs tied for last in the NFL with 13 takeaways.

    Things look a little more difficult this week with the Dallas Cowboys coming to Arrowhead Stadium. Then again, Reid is somewhat familiar with his former NFC East rival.

Miami Dolphins: Running Game

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    All’s well that ends well, if you are the Miami Dolphins.

    And if you would have told head coach Joe Philbin that his team would have rushed for 20 yards against the Cleveland Browns and won the game by 13 points, he would have been ecstatic…maybe.

    Even more amazing was the fact that the Dolphins got those 60 feet of turf on 23 carries—a dismal .09 yards per attempt.

    That lack of a ground attack did take a little bit of a toll. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 272 yards and a score but was picked off once and sacked four times.

    Things figure to be better this week against the Colts, don’t they?

Minnesota Vikings: QB Christian Ponder

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    The first time the Minnesota Vikings offense got its hands on the football this season, running back Adrian Peterson ran 78 yards for a touchdown and Leslie Frazier’s club owned a 7-0 lead.

    And it was all downhill from there.

    The Detroit Lions came away with a 34-24 win, rolling up 469 yards on the Minnesota defense.

    So why put the onus on quarterback Christian Ponder, who didn’t get much support from Peterson and the running game following that early outburst?

    The point here is that Ponder isn’t being blamed for the loss. But his consistent inconsistency remains an issue. The former first-rounder turned over the football four times against the Lions, including three interceptions.

    Dating back to last season, Ponder has now thrown 15 interceptions in his last 13 outings. The Vikings signal-caller was not picked off in his first four games last season.

    Things don’t figure to get any easier against the Bears in Chicago on Sunday.

New England Patriots: Passing Game

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    A win is a win, and two games into this season, the New England Patriots are 2-0 with a pair of victories, both within the division.

    But where exactly is the team’s offense headed this season? Minus wide receiver Danny Amendola on Thursday night vs. the Jets, Julian Edelman pulled in 13 passes for 78 yards in the team’s 13-10 victory. Edelman was targeted 18 times by Brady, who would complete just 19 of 29 throws for 185 yards and a score in the three-point victory.

    Amendola isn’t expected back for some time, and New England’s rookie wideouts are still experiencing growing pains. In Week 1 against the Bills, Kenbrell Thompkins was targeted 14 times and caught only four passes for 42 yards. On Thursday night, Aaron Dobson was targeted 10 times and totaled only three receptions for 56 yards and New England’s only touchdown.

    Could there be a Rob Gronkowski sighting sooner than later? The Patriots have a few extra days before their next outing.


New Orleans Saints: 1st Quarter

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    A year ago, the New Orleans Saints gave up the most total yards in a season in NFL history.

    Under then-defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Saints allowed 400 or more yards in a dozen games and 500-plus yards four times.

    So when the visiting Atlanta Falcons rolled up 123 yards in the first quarter last Sunday, it had to be a strange case déjà vu for Saints fans.

    But when it was all said and done, it was the Falcons who would be done in by a New Orleans defense that allowed only 244 yards over the final three quarters. Sean Payton’s club rallied for a 23-17 victory over the defending NFC South champions.

    Let’s see if the Saints make it a little more difficult for themselves this Sunday when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

New York Giants: Running Back

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    In last year’s season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, then-rookie running back David Wilson of the New York Giants fumbled in the first quarter and turned over the football. It proved to be the lone fumble by the young runner all season.

    That won’t be the case in 2013. Less than three quarters into their season opener, Wilson had already lost two fumbles, the second returned for a touchdown by Cowboys safety Barry Church.

    So will we see the second-year pro this Sunday against the Denver Broncos?

    Will Wilson be in the starting lineup this weekend? Well…


New York Jets: Quarterback

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    Football is a young man’s game, and youth is being served with the New York Jets.

    And for now, that’s the only thing on Rex Ryan’s menu.

    Thursday night’s 13-10 loss to the New England Patriots saw rookie quarterback Geno Smith complete less than 50 percent of his passes (15-of-35), throw three interceptions and take four sacks. This follows a somewhat-respectable opening-day performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which Smith threw for 256 yards and a score despite one interception and five sacks.

    Mark Sanchez doesn’t appear to be an option this season (emphasis on appear), and it will be interesting to see if Ryan would turn to Brady Quinn.

    Smith may just have to take his lumps, which may not be the worst thing in the world in the long run.


Oakland Raiders: RB Darren McFadden

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    A total of 13 carries for 112 yards is probably just what the Oakland Raiders were looking for last Sunday at Indianapolis.

    It’s just that head coach Dennis Allen and numerous others were probably expecting those numbers from running back Darren McFadden and not quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

    Against one of the weaker run defenses in the league last season, McFadden totaled only 48 yards rushing and one touchdown on 17 carries in the team’s 21-17 setback.

    McFadden did manage to catch three passes for 18 yards. But it was a touchdown reception called back because McFadden failed to get both feet in bounds that was perhaps a little more noteworthy.

    The talented but oft-injured performer takes aim at the Jacksonville Jaguars defense this weekend…hopefully with much better results.

Philadelphia Eagles: Game Plan

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    Who are we to question new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly?

    On Monday night, his fun-to-watch and hard-to-stop offense rolled up 322 yards on 53 plays in the first half as the Eagles owned a 26-7 lead at intermission against the Washington Redskins.

    But it appeared that the Birds called off the dogs in the second half, which nearly proved costly. A 33-7 advantage turned into a 33-27 win as Philadelphia ran only 24 plays in the final 30 minutes.

    Here’s something to contemplate the next few weeks: The Eagles face the San Diego Chargers on Sunday with both teams coming off a short week. Four days later, the Birds host former head coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs on a Thursday night.

    Perhaps conditioning should be next to the words "game plan" up top.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive Line

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    It was tempting to write health rather than offensive line, but there’s no need to overthink it.

    Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers got off to a miserable start in 2013 with a 16-9 home loss to the Tennessee Titans.

    Mike Tomlin’s club, losers of five of its last seven games last season and coming off a 0-4 preseason, never recovered after losing Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in the first quarter.

    Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for only 191 yards and was sacked five times. The Steelers' only touchdown of the game came with just 1:23 remaining in the contest.

    That offensive line, with new center Fernando Velasco, may feel the wrath of a frustrated Cincinnati Bengals defense this Monday night. Marvin Lewis’ club was held without a sack in a Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears.

St. Louis Rams: 3rd-Down Efficiency

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    Once again, head coach Jeff Fisher proved that he knows how to beat the teams in his own division.

    But a 27-24 victory over the visiting Arizona Cardinals proved to be a tough task for the St. Louis Rams.

    Fisher’s team would rally from a 24-13 fourth-quarter deficit for the victory. The offense was led by quarterback Sam Bradford, who threw for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns (one interception). Meanwhile, the St. Louis ground attack managed only 67 yards.

    The Rams made their task a little tougher, considering their inability to convert when they needed to most. Fisher’s club was just 4-of-11 on third down and its 27 points included four field goals by Greg Zuerlein.

    Will the Rams be much better against the Atlanta Falcons’ suspect defense this week? They will have to be if they intend to stun the defending NFC South champions.

San Diego Chargers: Running Game

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    A mere 15 seconds into the 2013 regular season, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews had his team’s first touchdown of the year via a 14-yard pass from quarterback Philip Rivers.

    Unfortunately, Mathews and the rest of the Chargers backs did little the remainder of the evening.

    New head coach Mike McCoy saw San Diego’s running attack manage only 80 yards on 20 attempts. More significantly, Rivers had 18 of those yards in what proved to be the club’s longest run of the evening.

    Is it any wonder with that lack of run support that the Chargers offense faded in the fourth quarter, gaining a mere nine yards on 10 plays?

    Will we see more of Mathews and Co. this Sunday against the fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles?

San Francisco 49ers: Secondary

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    We are well aware of the fact that the San Francisco 49ers faced Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last week.

    And yes, the Niners did come away with a 34-28 victory.

    But the team’s issues in the secondary have picked up where they left off late last season and in the playoffs.

    On Sunday, Rodgers threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns (one interception). That means in their last seven outings—including last year’s postseason run—the San Francisco defense has given up a whopping 17 touchdown passes.

    Things don’t get much easier this week against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. In the teams’ last meeting in December, Wilson threw four touchdown passes in a 42-13 rout of the eventual NFC champions.

    That is certainly something to ponder this Sunday evening.

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive End

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    Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks have been in many Super Bowl XLVIII conversations this offseason, and with good reason. The team is a well-balanced machine with a lot of young talent throughout its roster.

    But despite a 12-7 road win over the Carolina Panthers last week, Carroll has some concerns as his club prepares for an early prime-time showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

    The Seahawks' starting right defensive end last week at Carolina was O’Brien Schofield, who was released by the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. Neither Chris Clemons nor Cliff Avril was active for the Panthers game. And second-year pro Bruce Irvin is in the midst of a league suspension.

    Getting to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is tough enough. as he is protected by one of the best offensive lines in the game. It will be interesting to see who Carroll has at his disposal on defense this weekend.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Team Chemistry

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    Apparently, things aren’t so jolly on the Jolly Roger.

    All pirate puns aside, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let one get away last week courtesy of an 18-17 loss to the New York Jets. The game-deciding field goal was set up by Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, who gave New York an additional 15 yards when he pushed Jets quarterback Geno Smith after he had already run out of bounds.

    A loss is certainly a loss. But has head coach Greg Schiano lost his team? Last season, the Bucs were 6-4 before a crippling five-game losing streak realistically ended their playoff chances. Hence, the setback to the Jets was the team’s sixth defeat in its last seven games.

    And as the Buccaneers prepare to host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, another issue has popped up which we’re sure the club would “elect” not to deal with.


Tennessee Titans: Wide Receiver

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    The photo above is indeed factually correct.

    When it was all said and done, the Tennessee Titans wound up pushing the Pittsburgh Steelers around last Sunday.

    So why are we picking on a team that came away with one of the most surprising wins of Week 1?

    Mike Munchak’s club pounded Pittsburgh with the ground game as the Titans totaled 42 rushing attempts for 112 yards—their longest run a mere 11 yards.

    Meanwhile, quarterback Jake Locker threw for only 125 yards, and 40 of those came on three completions to tight end Delanie Walker. Meanwhile, four Tennessee wideouts combined for eight receptions for 85 yards, with a long of just 15 yards.

    Let’s see if the Titans improve on that against the Houston Texans secondary this weekend.

Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III

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    We all waited months to see Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III play football once again.

    The concern was whether Griffin was truly ready to play on Monday night. Early on, it certainly didn’t appear that way.

    Last year’s NFL Rookie of the Year stumbled out of the gate on Monday night in what proved to be a 33-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Griffin’s final numbers saw him throw for 329 yards and two scores. But he also dropped back to pass 52 times, throwing a pair of interceptions and fumbling once, the latter resulting in a safety. Griffin was also sacked three times.

    In the first half, Griffin hit on only five of 11 throws for 53 yards, one of those interceptions and the safety. He and the Redskins can’t afford to get off to another slow start this week at Lambeau Field.

    Then again, with one game under his belt, perhaps the talented quarterback is just getting warmed up once again.